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Baseball by the Numbers: Reversal of fortune

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

You can find more from Michael Salfino at Comcast SportsNet Washington.

Last year at this time, we predicted that a number of 2008's most-fortunate few would have their organizations scratching their heads in 2009.

Let's first look at how we did on those predictions before stepping back into the batter's box and acting like the apocryphal Babe Ruth as we point our finger out to 2010 and try to call our shot with the luckiest hitters and pitchers due for a fall. The final two columns will focus more extensively on the unlucky hitters and pitchers because winners in this game focus more on profit potential than risk.

The wind is at our back when we look at hitters we expect to decline. Colleague Todd Zola of MasterBall.com looked at a seven-year period and found that about 70 percent of hitters who earned positive fantasy value declined in value the next year.

Here are the hitters we said last year were lucky, for reasons stated parenthetically: Ian Kinsler(notes) (batting average on balls in play [BABIP] and average with runners in scoring position [RISP]), Ryan Ludwick(notes) (BABIP), Jason Bay(notes) (on-base plus slugging [OPS]), Felipe Lopez(notes) (OPS), Kevin Youkilis(notes) (homer rate and RISP), Lance Berkman(notes) (OPS, RISP).

I can barely give these hitting touts a gentleman's "C." Kinsler, Lopez, Berkman and Ludwick were good calls to decline in the categories we cited. But Bay and Youkilis have held value in those areas. That's four hits and two misses. Remember, we're supposed to do much better when we're skimming from a population of hitters, 70 percent of which will decline (and many appreciably).

For pitchers, we said that John Lackey(notes), Armando Galarraga(notes), Gavin Floyd(notes), Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) and Joe Saunders(notes) would spike in batting average against and ERA. Strand rate was expected to regress for Jake Peavy(notes) and Johan Santana(notes). Mike Pelfrey(notes) and Dana Eveland(notes) were predicted to see a spike in the percentage of fly balls that become homers.

Lackey's luck corrected last year in September after that '08 pitching piece was filed – he gave up 19 runs in 21 innings that month. So we get a mulligan there (or perhaps extra credit for predicting his horrific 2008 ending).

Galarraga has been a nightmare, as have been Matsuzaka and Saunders. Floyd has held up fine. Peavy and Santana saw their strand rate regress, Peavy's dramatically so (probably due to the injury-related smaller sample size). Eveland's homer rate increased to league average, the least of his problems. Pelfrey's HR/FB rate also increased, from 7.2 to 10.0 (average).

Those are very good pitching results. Let's try to do better with the lucky hitters and maintain our rate with lucky pitchers. We won't deal with hitter's average with RISP, the subject of last week's column. And gone are the usual recommendations. All of the following are 2010 "Sells."

J.A. Happ(notes), P, Phillies: He's the MLB leader in strand rate (86 percent) and BABIP (.250 against). Since he has no track record of significance beyond this year, you cannot pay anything approaching full value for the 2009 results.

Wandy Rodriguez(notes), P, Astros: I've been touting him now for years. But he's not a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher. Buy the K rate. But the strand rate is 81 percent right now and his prior best was last year's 72. Remember, even if you accept that that pitchers control strand rate, they sure don't control the relievers that inherit their baserunners.

Jason Hammel(notes), P, Rockies: A below average 7.9 percent rate of HR on fly balls? When his prior three years were 15, 11 and 15 percent? Pass.

Scott Feldman(notes), P, Rangers: It's not just the 16-4 record. His BABIP against is .266 and while it was .284 last year, it will increase. And his strand rate of 77 percent is lucky in light of 63 percent in '08.

David Wright(notes), 3B, Mets: His batting average is going down unless his strikeout percentage really improves. He's not hitting .401 on BIP again. But note the HR/FB rate (eight percent) is very unlucky in light of recent rates and in no way explained by his park (five homers both home and away).

Asdrubal Cabrera(notes), SS, Indians: He's a nifty player with some potential to be a mini-combo guy. But his .311 average is inflated by the .365 BABIP.

Aaron Hill(notes), 2B, Blue Jays: He's an extreme fly ball guy, a plus for power hitters. But he went from converting 2.3 percent HR/FB to 14.5 percent. I think he'll settle in as league average at converting – 10-to-11 percent – resulting in 23-to-26 homers.

Johnny Damon(notes) (OF) and Derek Jeter(notes) (SS), Yankees: Their conversion rates on HR/FB (about 14 percent each) are much too high in light of their most recent prior seasons.

Michael Young(notes), 3B, Rangers: Ditto Young – 15 percent this year and 6.9, 6.8 and 7.9 the prior three years.

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